A Stranger Life

The Taste of Success

Elina was abruptly jolted out of dream-filled sleep the following morning by the sound of Ariella's voice.

"Good morning sunshine! You have to get up now, because as you know, after today, there's only one day left!"

Elina groaned and got up on her knees, glaring sleepily at the portrait. "Why so early? Potions never take me very long." When the portrait of Ariella gave her no response but a self-righteous expression, she groaned, rolled her eyes, and then grudgingly rolled out of bed.

As she was brushing her hair, Ariella started speaking again. "I am aware that you are adept at making potions, but the one you want has a lot of variants, and it might take awhile to find the one that would fit your parents' situation best. That is why I'm making you wake up so early."

Elina turned around. "Yeah, sure, whatever you say," she replied dismissively and went into the bathroom so she could brush her teeth. A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door, and she was surprised to see Hermione on the other side.

"Good morning," she said resentfully. "What do you want? Come to yell at me some more?"

"No," Hermione replied firmly, ignoring Elina's tone. "I just came upstairs to tell you that the house-elves have early breakfast prepared if you want any, otherwise you can come down with Draco and your grandparents in a few hours."

"I think I'll wait and come down with Draco. I'm not hungry quite yet, and if I eat at the same time as Grandmother Narcissa and Grandfather Lucius, it will be more convenient as far as taking the spell off them is concerned."

Hermione nodded, and as Elina looked back at the mirror, she said quietly, "You're doing the right thing you know, really."

Then she disappeared before Elina could offer up a reply.

With about three hours until regular breakfast would be served, Elina headed to the library and poured over the potion she was to make, as well as the many variants. Ariella hadn't been kidding when she'd mentioned that there were quite a few.

"Look at this one!" she called enthusiastically to Ariella, who was now watching her from a frame in the library. "You mix it into baked goods, not drinks!"

Ariella nodded thoughtfully. There are some versions like that."

As she looked at the book enthusiastically, something suddenly occurred to her that popped her jubilant mood like a balloon. "Ariella, how am I supposed to get this into the food or drink? The house-elves won't like it if I try to stick unknown liquids in the meals!"

Ariella grinned. "There's no need to worry about that," she told her reassuringly. "After breakfast today, your grandparents are going out. Your grandfather has a business affair, and they won't be back until tonight."

Elina breathed a sigh of relief. "I could probably sneak the potion in before we eat," she said, realizing how lucky she was that her grandparents were going to be gone. It would make things so much simpler.

"That could work," Ariella agreed. "Have you looked at all the variants?" Elina nodded. "Good," the former replied. "You take the spell off your grandparents at breakfast, then we'll have the whole rest of the day to work on Hermione and Draco."

As Elina joined Draco in the kitchen for breakfast, she felt her muscles tighten as she gripped her wand. She didn't sit down as Draco did, but instead peered around the edge of the entryway, praying that neither Narcissa nor Lucius would see her. As they entered from another side, their backs were both to her and she quietly flicked the wand, performing what she hoped would be a successful silent counterspell. She then closed her eyes for a moment and waited.

When she opened them again, Narcissa and Lucius were sitting side by side at the table, and both were blinking rapidly. When Narcissa caught Elina's eye, she turned curiously to Draco. "Who is this?" she asked, nodding at Elina.

"Oh, her?" he asked, doing a very good imitation of being nonchalant, "she's new at school, in Slytherin with me. We've become good friends and she told me that her parents would be gone for Christmas, so I invited her here to stay."

"Oh," Narcissa's tone was light when she looked to Elina again and pulled out a chair. "Have you had any breakfast, dear?"

Elina shook her head, then got up the courage to walk the rest of the way into the dining room, where she perched with slight hesitation onto the chair nearest Draco. She looked at each of the others in turn, and when it became clear that no one suspected anything, she sighed with relief and asked Draco if he would mind passing her the toast and marmalade. He quickly obliged, and soon after, Narcissa resumed the conversation.

"So," she began in the same light tone, "Draco's told us that you go to Hogwarts and are with him in Slytherin house. What's your name? We might know your parents. Lucius does have several contacts at the ministry after all."

Elina looked at Draco in a panic. She had no idea what to say. Draco mouthed "don't mention Evie," and instead pointed out the window, a gesture Elina took to mean that she should say she was from somewhere far away, so that there was no chance of Narcissa and Lucius knowing her parents.

"My parents are back at home," she responded carefully. "I'm an exchange student at Hogwarts, and my parents are at our house in America. My name is Elizabeth."

Narcissa looked thoughtful. "I'm sorry you have to be so far away from home over Christmas."

Elina sighed. "It's really no big deal. My parents and I don't get along anyway. They wanted me to go to an American magic school, but I'd heard so many good things about Hogwarts that I decided to go there instead. My parents weren't too happy with my decision."

Narcissa nodded sympathetically. "I'm sorry. But you're always welcome here, don't forget that."

"Thank you," Elina told her with an enthusiastic smile. Breakfast went on for another half an hour, and by the time the clock struck ten, Draco was looking at his watch impatiently.

"Mother," he finally asked Narcissa, "isn't it about time for you and Father to go to that business meeting he has?"

Narcissa shook her head. "No, Draco. We just got an owl saying that Fudge is running a bit late. We don't need to leave for at least another hour."

When Elina and Draco heard that, they both began to fidget nervously, and ten minutes later, all went down hill when Hermione appeared in the dining room with an eager "are they gone yet?" her eyes then met Narcissa's very wide ones.

"What is she doing here?" Narcissa asked, her voice shaking with rage. But before anyone could answer that query, Hermione advanced into the room with her head held high.

"Dumbledore wants Draco and me to work on another mission together," she said calmly. "I know you want me to leave, but as such an assignment implies, I must stay here until it's been completed."

At that moment, Ariella appeared in the portrait frame over Narcissa's head. "Narcissa," she said sharply, "I believe you and Lucius should leave for the business meeting now. If you wait too long, you'll deprive Lucius's business contacts of the usual pre-meeting chatter."

Narcissa turned. "What are you doing here? Did you have anything to do with this?" she asked, indicating Hermione and Draco together.

Ariella shook her head. "No, this is the result of the maturation of your son's character, Narcissa."

The latter could think of nothing to say in reply, but stalked out of the kitchen with a mutinous-looking Lucius following soon after. After the two had left, the others sat at the table in silence before Elina finally said "I took the spell off them."

Hermione nodded approvingly. "Good for you. Now, how do you plan to spend the rest of your day?"

"Well," Elina replied, trying to look as innocent as possible, "I found some interesting potions when I was looking through books in the library. I was thinking of trying them out. And also, would you mind horribly if I made dinner and drinks tonight?"

Hermione and Draco looked at one another for a moment, then turned back to Elina. "Of course you can make dinner tonight," he told her.

"I can't wait to taste what you fix," Hermione added. "Good luck."

And without another word, they both left the dining room.

It took Elina until the sun went down that day to get the potion ready, but that was only because she'd made the meal and drinks first. With Ariella and Valerian's help, she smuggled them into the dining room which was blessedly empty of Hermione and Draco. With as much stealth as she could manage, she put a few drops of each potion in the drinks, then quickly put the rest in a nondescript glass bottle on top of a nearby table.

Hermione and Draco came immediately when she called them and marveled at the job she'd done with the meal preparation. "The house-elves wouldn't let me do anything unless I let them help," she admitted. "I tried telling them that I was fine cooking by myself, but they kept insisting and I finally just let them help."

"What kind of drink is this?" Draco asked, looking into his glass at the fizzy brown liquid. "You aren't making us drink potion are you?"

"No," Elina said quickly. "It's a muggle drink called pop. It's really good, I promise."

Draco still seemed doubtful and watched Hermione as she took a healthy swig from her glass. When he was sure that she wasn't going to die, he took a drink from his glass as well. There had been a lot of potions to choose from, but this particular once had been chosen because it reacted well when mixed with carbonation.

Not a minute later, the expressions on Draco and Hermione's faces changed. Elina saw Draco's change first and she immediately went over to him. "Are you all right, Draco? What are you seeing?"

He made no indication that he'd seen her physically, because his eyes were locked on Hermione, but his next words indicated that he'd heard what she'd said. "I'm looking at the most beautiful girl in the world," he replied. Elina let out a shriek of triumph and then looked at Hermione, who was gazing at Draco. Her achievement seemed to be sealed when Hermione said "has anyone ever told you that you have beautiful eyes?"

At that moment, Draco seemed to realize that Elina was standing next to him, and he said to her "Would you mind leaving us alone?"

"Of course," Elina replied, grinning widely over her shoulder as she left the dining room. "Have a nice night, you two."

A/n- This is the last update I will do before I get back from vacation on July 8th. Thanks for reading everyone!

-Belle

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